Biology Class Trip to AbbVie Pharmaceuticals
Posted 04/12/2016 09:31AM
By Amy Pearson

On April 6th, 38 US students from Amy Pearson's Biology classes visited AbbVie in Worcester to learn about the process of drug discovery and production. AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company, is the maker of such well-known medications as Synthroid, Humira, and Simcor. The trip came about when teacher Amy Pearson mentioned to parents on Upper School Parent’s Night that a goal for the year was to have her classes interact and possibly visit a local biotechnology company.  Dr. Jochen Salfeld (parent of Ben ’17 , Hans ’12, and Bettina ’10) came up after class and offered to help set up a program. He enlisted other Bancroft parents who work at AbbVie, Dr. Carolyn Cuff (parent of Margaret G. ’21 and Thomas G. ’24), and Dr. Taro Fujimori, whose six children have attended Bancroft, and wife Maureen taught math at Bancroft for many years.  

Mrs. Pearson shares the story of the trip:

The visit began with a presentation by Dr. Salfeld on The Story of Humira, as an overview of how drugs are discovered. Humira is presently the world’s top selling pharmaceutical. We were honored to hear from Dr. Salfeld, as he directed this project from its beginning. The day continued, with short presentations from different scientists who explained their roles in the development of drugs, from the structural biologist to the genetic engineer. Both Dr. Cuff and Dr. Fujimori discussed their backgrounds and what they do at AbbVie. I was surprised to learn that Phil Tongue, one of the Bancroft crew coaches, also works at AbbVie, and he shared with students how the drugs are produced and prepared for market. Alumna Samantha (Welch) Zappia ’00 also works at AbbVie and participated in the day’s activities.

The classes had a tour of some research labs (yes, we saw robots!) and small-scale cell culture areas.  A networking lunch was a great success, as students ate with scientists and got to ask questions, learn in more detail about what they do, and realize how diverse the career opportunities are.  Some of the more valuable advice and information included: try to find internships that allow you to experience scientific research, our work is very team oriented, we do a lot of “on the job learning,” which made me think of Bancroft’s mission of being lifelong learners. Some of the many topics discussed during the day included how and why most drugs take about 10 years to get to market after discovery, how drugs are tested, personalized medicine, how scientists keep lab notebooks, and the many things to consider when bringing a drug to market (dosage to distribution).  Students commented on how they admired the attitude of many of the speakers in that they all loved what they were doing, as they could have a positive impact on the lives of so many people.  

The team at AbbVie certainly had a positive impact on our Biology students! We plan to continue the conversations!